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"August: Osage County," directed by Anna D. Shapiro, in its original run at Steppenwolf Theatre Company.

Anna Shapiro to Succeed Martha Lavey as Steppenwolf Artistic Director

Big changes at a Chicago mainstay: Martha Lavey to step down, Anna Shapiro to step up; the executive director changes over; plus, expansion plans.

Anna Shapiro at the Steppenwolf Theatre. (Photo by Saverio Truglia)
Anna Shapiro at the Steppenwolf Theatre. (Photo by Saverio Truglia)

CHICAGO: Martha Lavey will step down as the artistic director of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company at the end of the 2014–15 season, and director and ensemble member Anna D. Shapiro will succeed her, the company announced on Thursday morning.

Additionally, current managing director David M. Schmitz will take over as executive director in January 2015, assuming the position from David Hawkanson, who has held the title since 2003.

“Steppenwolf has always been at the center of everything in my professional life,” Shapiro said in a statement. “Members of this ensemble and the work they have created have shaped not only who I am as an artist but as a human being.”

“There is no better ensemble of actors and professionals than the one we have at Steppenwolf, and it will be a privilege to serve alongside Anna Shapiro, a dynamic and inspiring leader,” Schmitz added in a release.

The company also announced a major expansion plan, which will add two new buildings. One will house a 400-seat theatre, which will replace the current Upstairs space, and a public atrium dedicated to audience engagement. The second  will be the theatre’s lab, with a black box theatre, a space for community programs and offices. Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture will serve as the architects for the project, with London-based Charcoalblue acting as the theatre consultants.

“The new campus will meet Steppenwolf’s theatrical and programming needs while being in the scale and context of the neighborhood,” Gill said. “The result will be a unified campus that connects with the community and utilizes a palette of materials that are of Chicago, and on a scale appropriate for the neighborhood.”

Lavey has led the Steppenwolf since 1995, where she championed the works of playwrights such as Bruce Norris, Tracy Letts and Lisa D’Amour. Under her tenure, the Steppenwolf productions of August: Osage County (also directed by Shapiro), One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Superior Donuts, Buried Child, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and This Is Our Youth have moved to Broadway. After she steps down as artistic director, she will stay on as an ensemble member.

Of August, Shapiro recalls in our March profile of her: “Martha and our executive director David Hawkanson were real advocates for us. They went to the board and said, ‘We need more money. We have no idea if we’ll make it back, but this play is a true example of a Steppenwolf ensemble piece.’ It was written by an ensemble member, directed by an ensemble member, with parts written for the ensemble—it was what we had been arching towards that whole tenure.”

A number of Shapiro-directed productions have graced Broadway this year. She directed Of Mice and Men, starring James Franco and Chris O’Dowd, and her production of This Is Our Youth, starring Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin and Tavi Gevinson, is playing at the Cort Theatre on Broadway. The show premiered at Steppenwolf over the summer.

Below is a slideshow of renderings for Steppenwolf’s new buildings:

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